Life is full of turmoil and unanswered questions. Each one of us is faced with moments of boundless joy, painful monotony and unbearable grief. So often we ask for meaning in the midst of pain.” “Why am I going through this?” “How can there be any purpose behind this?” So many moments in life seem so senseless and are only full of meaningless pain.
In 1943, despite the fact that he was exempt from the draft, Willis Reed volunteered to go to war. Not to fight, but to serve. Over the three years that he was a part of the Army as a chaplain, he experienced some of of the most horrific depths to which humanity can sink to and was surrounded by those “inexplicably meaningless moments.” Consider the following excerpt from a letter he wrote on April 9, 1945 – while his Division was fighting in the one of the most deadly battles of the war.
I got up early this morning and proceeded to the hospital. I found upon arrival that another one of our men passed away during the night. He passed away because of wounds received on the hectic night before. After leaving there I found a mother and a year and a half old girl. She was severely injured as was her baby. We got a jeep and drove her to the civilian camp medics. One of the doctors was sick from overwork so I helped the other doctor with the surgery on the baby and mother. The operation took about one hour and forty five minutes altogether. I held the little baby girl on the operating table. We couldn’t give her ether. But they did giver her morphine. The only time she cried was actually during the operation. She was really pretty. The native Okinawans are nice looking people and I would certainly like to be a missionary to such a people. I’m sure they would be very receptive and would make real Christians. They have been held in bondage and submission by the Japanese, for centuries they have been exploited.
This same thread of compassion endures throughout so many of Willis’ letters. He understood one thing that most of us struggle to comprehend. We are here to serve others and show them the love of God. Amazingly, it can be because of our pain and suffering that we can be used so effectively by God.
One of Willis Reed’s favorite books of all time was Oswald Chambers, “My Utmost for His Highest.” This beautiful book of daily encouragement brought tremendous strength to Willis through his time in the service. In later years, Willis had a card printed, which was a paraphrase from a Chamber’s quote. Here is what the card said:
“If you are going to be used by God, He will take you thru a multitude of experiences that are not meant for you at all; they are meant to make you useful in His hands and to enable you to understand what happens in other souls so you will never be surprised at what you come across.”
The scripture is very clear in this matter as well. Paul wrote in Philippians:
Therefore, if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from His love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
In the following message, preached on Christmas Eve 1978, Willis gives some good advice about how we can serve others. God has a purpose for each one of us and we arrive there by putting others before ourselves. To understand why we are experiencing our pain requires us to look at our circumstances through the lens of eternity and realize that the Will of God Almighty is to be of use to him in his kingdom.